Common Map Turtle Care Sheet

Common Map Turtle Care Sheet

Common map turtles (Graptemys geographica) are 3.5-10.5”, semi-aquatic, diurnal reptiles found primarily in the northeast quadrant of the United States. These turtles prefer spacious freshwater habitats such as rivers, ponds, and lakes with plenty of basking area.

Common map turtles have an olive green or brown, keeled shell marked with thin yellow lines. The plastron is pale yellow, and their skin is typically dark green with thin yellow lines. The eyes are yellow with a dark transverse line through the pupil, and a triangular marking can usually be found behind each eye.

Common map turtles generally do well as pets when captive-bred, although their size can present a special challenge, and as a semi-aquatic species, they are higher-maintenance than most. With good care, they may have a 20+ year lifespan.

Minimum enclosure size for common map turtles

The minimum size enclosure for housing one common map turtle requires at least 10 US gallons of water per inch of the turtle’s anticipated adult length. This means that the minimum requirement is 65 or 105 gallons, depending on whether you have a male or female. Water depth should be between 4-6” for hatchlings, but older individuals are strong swimmers and should have more depth.

If your local climate and housing situation allows, map turtles tend to do well when housed in an outdoor pond for at least part of the year. If this is a possibility for you, make sure that the pond is sufficiently large, with an accessible land area. The pond must be enclosed by a secure fence to prevent escape, and anti-predator measures.

It’s best not to house more than one map turtle per enclosure.

Do common map turtles need UVB?

Yes! Map turtles require exposure to appropriate amounts of UVB in order to maintain good health and wellbeing. Providing UVB lighting to your turtle offers several benefits, including all of the vitamin D that their body needs, better appetite and activity, and a stronger immune system.

The best UVB bulbs for common map turtles are:

  • Zoo Med Reptisun T5 HO 5.0
  • Arcadia Forest 6%

The UVB bulb should be half the length of the enclosure and housed in a reflective fixture like the Arcadia ProT5 or Vivarium Electronics. Place the lamp close to the heat lamps, about 13-14” above the basking platform if there’s no mesh obstruction, but 8-11” away if there is mesh.

UVB bulbs decay over time, so don’t forget to replace your bulb every 12 months to maintain good performance. 

Since map turtles are a day-active species, it’s best practice to provide extra illumination via a strong LED or T5 HO 6500K daylight lamp. This helps better replicate daylight and is also good for any live plants you may be using.

Lights should be on for 14 hours/day during summer and 10 hours/day during winter. However, if you are housing your turtle outdoors in a pond, then supplementary lighting is not needed.

Best temperature for common map turtles

Unlike mammals, which control their own body temperature internally, map turtles and other reptiles rely on external sources to regulate their body temperature and metabolism. 

Different reptiles require different temperatures for best health. For common map turtles, the basking surface should be around 100-110°F. Juvenile water temperature should be between 78-80°F, while adults need 72-76°F. Measure basking temperature with a digital probe thermometer, and water temperature with a high-quality aquarium thermometer.

Provide heat for your turtle with a cluster of at two halogen flood heat lamps clustered on one side of the enclosure and positioned over a sturdy basking branch or rock. Avoid ceramic heat emitters (CHEs), red bulbs, or blue bulbs, as these are not as effective. Use higher wattage bulbs if they’re too cool, or use a plug-in lamp dimmer if they’re too warm.

If you are housing your turtle outdoors in an appropriate climate, heating equipment is not required.

Water maintenance for common map turtles

Map turtles are semi-aquatic reptiles, and spend most of their time in the water. This means that most of the enclosure should be water — in other words, you’ll be essentially maintaining a pond or aquarium with an accessible land area. Your turtle’s water must be kept as clean as possible to maintain the turtle’s health.

For filtration, you will need a canister-style filter capable of handling at least 2x the amount of water in the enclosure. For example, if you have an aquarium or pond with 105 gallons of water, you will need a filter rated for at least 210 gallons of water. This is one aspect of your setup where it’s very important to invest in excellent equipment!

You will also need to perform routine water changes. Once every 1-2 weeks, remove and replace approximately 30% of the enclosure’s total water volume. As essential as filters are, periodically removing “old” water and replacing it with “new” water helps prevent toxic compounds from building up. To make water changes easier, use a siphon or water pump.

Both indoor and outdoor enclosures require filtration and routine water changes.

Using a water conditioner like Zoo Med Reptisafe is helpful for managing chlorine and chloramines in the water, which can potentially irritate your turtle.

Best substrate for common map turtles

Substrate is not required in a map turtle aquarium or pond, but it does make things more attractive. Sand, crushed coral, and river pebbles all work for map turtles. If you choose to use substrate, make sure to clean it with a siphon during every water change.

How to decorate a common map turtle enclosure

The first thing you’ll need to add to your aquarium/pond is NOT optional: because map turtles are only semi-aquatic rather than fully-aquatic, you need to provide a “land” area for the turtle to bask on. Ideally, this should be enough space for the turtle to bask, walk around a bit, and burrow. However, if that’s not possible, you can use a simple turtle basking platform. At minimum, this platform should be at least as large as the turtle itself, and tall enough to allow the turtle to completely dry off.

Décor is about more than just creating an attractive enclosure — it’s also about boosting the enclosure’s functionality. Here are some ideas:

  • live/artificial plants
  • driftwood
  • hollow logs

Whatever you choose to add, make sure to create at least a couple places where your turtle can hide from view. This helps them feel more secure!

What to feed to a common map turtle

Map turtles are omnivorous, which means that they need both plant- and animal-based foods in their diet to get the nutrition that they need. Here is a general feeding schedule to follow:

Common map turtles younger than 6 months:

  • 50% protein / 50% vegetables
  • protein food or pellets daily
  • vegetable food daily

Common map turtles between 6-12 months:

  • 50% protein / 50% vegetables
  • protein food or pellets every other day
  • vegetable food daily

Common map turtles older than 1 year:

  • 25% protein / 75% vegetables
  • protein food or pellets 2-3x/week
  • vegetable food daily

Animal-based foods for common map turtles: crickets, earthworms, dubia roaches, freeze-dried shrimp/krill, frozen bloodworms, silkworms, snails, guppies, mollies, platies, mosquito fish, crayfish, mussels

Vegetable foods for common map turtles: collard greens, dandelion greens + flowers, endive, green leaf lettuce, kale, red leaf lettuce, romaine lettuce, raw grated squash, carrots, green beans, raw grated sweet potato, duckweed, filamentous algae

Pellets for common map turtles: Omega One Juvenile Turtle Pellets, Omega One Adult Turtle Sticks, Tetra ReptoMin, Zoo Med Natural Aquatic Turtle Food, Mazuri Aquatic Turtle Diet

A portion of chopped/shredded vegetables should be roughly the same size as the turtle’s shell. A portion of pellets or protein food should be roughly the same size as the turtle’s head.

For extra calcium, your turtle should have access to a cuttlebone or calcium block at all times.

How to handle your common map turtle

Unlike some other reptiles, turtles aren’t the kind of pet that you can handle regularly. It’s best to stay hands-off with this pet, and to watch them do their thing instead. If you want to try bonding with your pet, try tong-feeding!

*This care sheet contains only very basic information. Although it’s a good introduction, please further your research with high-quality sources. The more you know, the better you will be able to care for your pet!

"Common Map Turtle (Graptemys geographica)" by 2ndPeter is licensed under CC BY 2.0

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